IMAGE:  August 2003
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Volume 95, Issue 6

GRAPHIC:  ResearchCitations

Cancer-treatment response is in the genes
Your genes may determine how you respond to cancer treatment, reports Chicago oncologist Mark Ratain. In a study of 61 colon-cancer patients, Ratain found that a patient’s UGT1A1 gene variant determines his or her susceptibility to severe side effects from the new colon-cancer drug Irinotecan. Patients with the gene variant 7/7 taking the drug experience a substantial white-blood-cell drop and become infection prone. Ratain, who announced his findings at a spring American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, believes that a screening test for the variant could become available soon.

Zen of golf
Professional golfers generally keep their emotions in check when competing, while amateurs do not, revealed Chicago neurologist John Milton and his University research team at a spring American Academy of Neurology meeting. Using EEG and MRI tests, Milton scanned the brains of both LPGA and amateur women golfers while the subjects imagined taking shots. For the pros, the neural circuits involved in motor performance were more active than those involved in emotions, while the reverse was true for the amateurs. Milton hopes to use the knowledge that golf skill has a significant mental component to create rehabilitation methods for people with physically debilitating neurological diseases.

Wealth of families
Children of both the wealthy and the poor tend to mimic their parents’ financial habits, say Erik Hurst, assistant professor of economics, and Kerwin Kofi Charles of the University of Michigan. Hurst and Charles examined 1,491 parent-child pairs from data collected in the 1980s and 1990s on families’ socioeconomic status over time. Education, often thought to be a major factor in predicting children’s continued wealth, turned out to play a relatively small role. Instead, Hurst and Charles argue, casual family discussions about the importance of saving money keep most children of wealthy parents well off. The study will be published in the Journal of Political Economy later this year.

Teach to the hand
Teachers unconsciously pick up on cues from students’ gestures and adjust their instruction accordingly, psychology professor Susan Goldin-Meadow and researcher Melissa Singer, AM’97, found. Goldin-Meadow and colleagues had previously discovered that students are ready to learn more when their gestures don’t match their speech. For example, a student might incorrectly add the numerals on both sides of an equation’s equal sign, but still correctly gesture to each side separately. The study, published in the May Developmental Psychology, says that teachers showed “mismatchers” new ways to solve problems.

What happens when you mix drugs and alcohol
A nicotine-blocking drug used to help smokers quit also reduces alcohol euphoria in casual drinkers. In associate professor of psychiatry Harriet de Wit’s study, published in the May Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, participants were given a mecamylamine pill or a placebo followed by either an alcoholic or nonalcoholic drink. Alcohol drinkers who received mecamylamine reported less euphoria and a reduced desire to drink more. Nicotine receptors release the feel-good brain chemical dopamine when they are stimulated; the researchers suspect mecamylamine blocks alcohol from acting on those receptors and thus decreases dopamine levels in drinkers. Researchers still must study the drug’s effects on heavy drinkers but hope that it may help treat alcoholics.

—P.M. and D.G.R.




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